Catholic Pope Francis is touring the Middle East, and is currently on the last a three-day visit to Turkey. The Grand Mufti of Istanbul gave the Pope a tour of Sultan Ahmet mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, where Francis prayed with Muslims in silence.
Saturday morning, Pope Francis bowed his head and clasped his hands in two minutes of silent prayer inside the Blue Mosque, in order to show his respect for Islam and encourage stronger ties between the two faiths. The Pope has been vocal about the political and social unrest in the Middle East, the violence that plagues the region, and the roles various governments play in it. After his prayer, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul blessed the Pope’s prayer.
“May God accept it.”
Pope Francis also toured the Haghia Sofia, which was the largest Byzantine church in Constantinople before its fall in 1453, when the Muslims turned it into a mosque. It is now a museum honoring the history of Istanbul.
Although the visit to the Middle East by Pope Francis has been largely symbolic, he has made words about the unrest there. Al Jazeera reports that Francis met with Turkish leaders on Friday, urging them to condemn the violence being committed in Islam’s name against religious minorities in other parts of the Middle East (namely Iraq and Syria). He also called for greater dialogue between people of Christian, Muslim, and all faiths in order to end fundamentalism.
The Jerusalem Post cited the Pope Francis visit to the Middle East a call to end the killing of Christians in Syria, though the majority of those being persecuted in Syria by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) are actually Shi’ite Muslims.
In a speech at the beginning of his three-day visit to Turkey on his Middle East tour, the Pope said that fighting hunger and poverty were the way to stop fundamentalist fighting and death. His speech, reported on by Reuters and Haaretz, came before his visit to the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
“What is required is a concerted commitment on the part of all… [to] enable resources to be directed, not to weaponry, but to the other noble battles worthy of man: the fight against hunger and sickness.”
Turkey is an important part of the Middle East war going on in Syria and Iraq, giving access to the United States and its coalition to the Syrian border and taking in refugees from the nation — now numbering nearly 2 million.
We can assume that Pope Francis’ prayer in the Blue Mosque was to ask for peace in the Middle East.